Center for Social Research

Studying urban sprawl from space

Discover magazine led me to a great find, a new satellite imagery study of urban sprawl in the US by a University of Toronto team led by economist Matthew Turner. The study surprisingly finds less sprawl than expected overall, but major differences among metropolitan areas. Miami is compact, Pittsburgh sprawls. Inter-city differences are explained by differences in “ground water availability, temperate climate, rugged terrain, decentralized employment, early public transport infrastructure, uncertainty about metropolitan growth, and unincorporated land in the urban fringe.” See the working paper or get a copy of the published version from the Quarterly Journal of Economics on the IDEAS site (the download did not work for me, but the citation and abstract are complete).

Posted by Neil Carlson on Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 10:04 AM
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Calvin faculty study local congregational worship

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) has received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to better understand the transformative nature of worship. A team of nine Calvin College faculty and Center for Social Research (CSR) staff are working with John Witvliet and the Worship Institute staff to study issues of “Worship, Worldview and Way of Life.”

Five of these faculty members are working together and partnering with ten local congregations in Grand Rapids to do a series of studies. The ten churches represent both urban and suburban locations as well as a variety of denominations. These studies cover worship’s relationship to everything from conceptions of community to issues of race. In keeping with the Worship Institute’s practical goals, the aim is to help congregations become more reflective about how worship can empower congregants to be transformative agents in society. CSR staff and student research assistants are providing research support, especially Gwen Einfeld, who is organizing tracking of recordings and transcripts. Read on for details of these studies and biographical sketches of the faculty conducting them.

God and Nature:  Depictions of the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in Worship
Dr. Janel Curry is conducting a project in the study group’s ten partner Grand Rapids churches. As available, transcripts of the three worship services following both the Asian tsunami (January 2, 9, and 16, 2005) and Hurricane Katrina (September 4, 11, and 18, 2005) from each church will be analyzed to see how relationships among God, nature, and humans are depicted. She will also compare sermons of the same time period from similar congregations posted on the web.

The Framing of Community and Faith:  A Rhetorical Analysis of Sermons
Dr. Kathi Groenendyk is studying twelve Sunday morning worship services, spanning one year, from each of the ten partner churches in urban and suburban Grand Rapids. In the first of a series of studies, she will examine the themes, language, and rhetorical appeals to individuals and communities made within the sermons.

Understanding Racialization in Congregations
A multi-racial research team, composed of Dr. Gail Heffner, Director of Community Engagement and Dr. Denise Isom, Assistant Professor of Education, will be exploring the role of religious institutions in bridging the racial divide. Questions will be:  How do the participants in these congregations understand the notion of ‘race’ and what meaning does it have in their lives and in the life of their congregation? What do their worship practices reveal about the racial ideology and identity of the congregation? The focus of this research will be to understand the lived-experiences of race for people of color and for whites in these congregations.

The Meaning Making World of African American Children
Dr. Isom is also doing a study of African American children, to give voice to how they see the world and themselves. Using several months of observational analysis, as well as interviews and focus groups, Dr. Isom is looking to capture how Black children define maleness, femaleness, “Blackness”, Christianity, and the way those ideas and identities intersect and interact. She serves as a volunteer in one of the church youth programs as well as attending the church on Sundays. That engagement will allow her to get to know the children and observe the way they live out what they think. The final stages of the study will include interviews and focus groups with the children.

    Gail Gunst Heffner is the Director of Community Engagement at Calvin College and was on the staff of the Calvin Center for Social Research from 2001-2004.  She holds a Ph.D. in Urban Studies from Michigan State University.  She has published articles on community-based research, community partnerships, and social capital and community development in journals such as the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning and the Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement.  Her book, published by University Press of America, is titled Commitment and Connection: Service-Learning and Christian Higher Education. She studies race and racialization; her doctoral dissertation was a study of a multi-congregational anti-racism initiative examining institutional racism in congregations. Denise A. Isom is currently an assistant professor in the education department at Calvin College and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology of Education from Loyola University, Chicago. Her current research on racialized gender identity in African American children brings together Dr. Isom’s interests and expertise in the areas of race, culture, identity, and gender. Her research has been presented at numerous conferences including the University of Pennsylvania’s ethnography conference and the American Educational Research Association and accepted for publication in the Journal of Race Equality and Teaching. This research will represent a follow-up study to her dissertation work on African American 5th-7th graders’ articulations and manifestations of their racialized gender identity.

Community and the Congregation
The work of Dr. Mark Mulder will examine how worship practices might affect or influence a congregation’s conception of the immediate community. The research will focus on questions of the connection between worship practices and connections to the local neighborhood. He will examine historical documents, observe churches in action, and interview members of the various congregations.

    Mark Mulder, originally from Wisconsin, joined the Calvin faculty in 2002 and is Assistant Professor of Sociology. Mark received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research is in urban studies. Mark is particularly interested in residential patterns and social service agencies. His dissertation examined the roles of congregations in the process of “white flight.” More recently, he has written about faith-based homeless shelters. Mark has also presented the concept of “place” in urban neighborhoods as well as pedagogy for sociology classes.

In gratitude for their participation in the studies, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship will offer the participating congregations a variety of worship-related materials and/or conference registration. The research results will also be shared with the participating congregations. These studies have been cleared by the College’s Institutional Review Board to ensure that researchers maintain high levels of confidentiality, in turn maintaining a high level of trust with congregations.


Posted by Neil Carlson on Wednesday, September 06, 2006 at 09:07 AM
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CSR Project Fellows Mulder and Smith gearing up

Jamie Smith (Philosophy) and Mark Mulder (Sociology) are the CSR Project Fellows for the 2006-2008 academic years. They’re planning a pilot study of evangelical Christians’ attitudes and beliefs about cities and residential patterns. Read on for excerpts from their proposal…

Mulder and Smith write (extensive footnotes are omitted):

    “In their landmark study, Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith articulated the ways in which evangelical spirituality and practice actually contributed to the racialization and segregation of American culture—the very antithesis of the picture of the redeemed community “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9). Our proposal for a CSR Fellows grant seeks to launch a correlate (and supplementary) initiative that will consider how evangelicals tend to exhibit an anti-urban bias that contributes to a negative view of urban life and contributes to the growth of suburban and exurban social arrangements. (And like the case studied by Emerson and Smith, here evangelical sensibilities seem to be in contrast to the biblical eschatological hope that locates redemption in a city [Rev. 21:2].) We believe that such an anti-urban bias accords neither with an integral Christian theoretical framework, nor with the findings of social research—which increasingly points to the corrosive effects of the suburbanization of American populations and also indicates the unique possibilities for community in urban settings. In particular, we plan to examine whether urban social arrangements foster “love of neighbor” in unique ways because of the unique social capital yielded by urban geographies. “In sum, our ultimate goal is to write a book that functions as both a supplement and sequel to Divided by Faith, considering a factor not considered by Emerson and Smith: the way in which urban and suburban social arrangements contribute to either racial segregation or integration, where racial reconciliation represents one facet of a general concern for loving one’s neighbor.  In other words, we want extend Emerson and Smith’s analyses by considering not only racial concerns, but broader elements of ‘community-building’ and other-regarding behaviors and practices that we describe with the shorthand ‘altruism.’”

The fruit of this collaboration between a philosopher and sociologist is an ambitious effort to bring theology and empirical study together:

    “We believe that social science research that is distinctly Christian must work from robust theological assumptions about what it means to be human, the shape of human community, the breakdown of relationships, and the hope for new social configurations. However, Christian sociological theory that remains a priori speculation is not properly sociological. It must be supplemented and opened to confirmation (or disconfirmation) in the arena of experience through empirical observation. Our research initiative on urban sociality seeks to enact this vision of sociological research.”

CSR staff and student assistants will support Mulder and Smith with data collection and analysis services, including work with Geographic Information Systems.

Posted by Neil Carlson on Friday, September 01, 2006 at 03:31 PM
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Volunteer now: See colors and spot churches

Volunteers are needed to visit rural areas this fall to help finish a congregational census of Kent County.

Sign up for training, then cover a part of the county in late September and early October. About ten pairs of volunteers can finish the job in under a week.

Training:  Saturday, September 23, 9am - 12pm at Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus. Read more below to RSVP.

Photo of covered bridge at Fallasburg Park in fall

Drive all over a part of rural Kent County and document the churches you find.

Approaching the covered bridge at Fallasburg Park in northeast Kent County, October 2005.

The Kent County Congregations Census Project is a collaborative research project among the following organizations:

The project is sponsored by the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation. The census project is part of a larger research effort designed to study how congregations in Kent County provide social services to their neighborhoods, specifically as it relates to the educational lives of children in our community. The census project is the first time we know of that anyone has sought to identify the location and basic characteristics of all congregations in our region.

The project is seeking volunteers to complete the census. This will involve going out in pairs with maps prepared by the research team and visually verifying the existence of established or new congregations. Volunteers must have transportation, time and a digital camera (or at least the ability to use one) to photograph congregations. The project will provide mileage reimbursement and the county will provide the joy of exploration.

A training session is required of all volunteers; it will be held at Grand Valley State University on September 23 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon; a light breakfast and coffee break will be provided. If you are interested, please RSVP by contacting Korrie Ottenwess by September 18 at 616-331-7211 or email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Please be a part of this historic project!!

Posted by Neil Carlson on Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 10:54 PM
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A new paradigm for a new year

Greetings, colleagues! For 2006-2007, the Center for Social Research is moving to a new project management footing, of which this brand new weblog is a part. We are working to place new emphasis on our primary mission:  helping Calvin faculty improve our academic research in the social sciences. CSR’s support for community service organizations, the Christian Reformed Church, and Calvin administrative departments will not end, but we are working hard to emphasize faculty research as the organizing principle for these other CSR functions, which are after all part of our entire institution’s mission, not CSR’s alone. This note is primarily about the ongoing expansion of our high-tech research-support infrastructure. Read on to see a few of the steps we are taking…

  1. Research workspace availability:  CSR’s workroom (Spoelhof Center 206) has room for a number of guest workers. We acquired new computers in the last few months, which are well-equipped with a wide range of tools useful for social science, including statistical software (SPSS 12.0, Stata 9), geographic information systems (ArcGIS 9.1 and others), textual analysis software (NVivo 7), and design software (Dreamweaver 8, Fireworks 8, Flash MX 2004, CorelDraw X3, etc.). Faculty, staff and students who need a place to access high-tech tools and have expert support available may request short-term use of the workroom (maximum one semester per request); contact us, or see the Project Proposal Form item below!
  2. Weblog: Calvin faculty, staff and student research assistants are invited to join this weblog as a place to share information about social-science-related ideas and research findings. If you or your department have social-research-related news, events, publications or just ideas, you can use the CSR weblog as a calendar of events and a record of research news. Just send us your news by email; if you anticipate frequent posts, you can become an editor and make posts directly. Social Science Division department chairs and administrative assistants are especially invited to contact us about this exciting system.
  3. Project Proposal Form: To ensure our project portfolio reflects our research goals and leaves plenty of time for informal consultation and training, we are implementing a batch project proposal process, with three primary proposal deadlines annually:  September 10, January 15 and May 1. We’ll consider short-term and informal needs as possible, but please give us as much lead time as possible for projects requiring more than a couple hours of time. If you are interested in any service from CSR, contact us in person or complete the Project Proposal Form and we’ll contact you.
  4. Project Management Infrastructure: In addition to our research services, the CSR is developing expertise in new-era project management and accounting tools, including Microsoft Project and Intuit’s QuickBase and QuickBooks Online Edition. Key features include task assignment and tracking to on- and off-campus collaborators, online time tracking for student employees with project- and client-level detail (not available in Calvin’s current KnightVision timecard system). If your research project is complex, collaborative, or both, you may benefit by sharing CSR’s growing infrastructure.
  5. Inquisite Online Survey System expansion:  Calvin recently upgraded our survey software to Inquisite 7.5 and added two great new packages, the Software Development Kit (SDK) and the Multi-Language Kit (MLK); we are also working with staff to disseminate Inquisite expertise to other on-campus divisions, so CSR can specialize in research-driven and off-campus client uses of the system. The SDK allows Inquisite to be linked to other systems; for example, answer options to a particular survey question can be dynamically drawn from an evolving database list. The MLK enables a consistent logical survey structure with multiple languages; respondents can choose a language to respond in, and analysts can choose a language for exported reports and datasets. The MLK also includes a translation utility that simplifies the process of providing a professional translator with the entire logical structure of the survey and importing the translator’s work into Inquisite.

Thanks for reading. Please make a comment, or see our Services page to learn more about CSR’s skill set.

Posted by Neil Carlson on Wednesday, August 23, 2006 at 11:09 AM
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